by Ran Walker
The box was much smaller than Sean had expected. It could have easily contained a small watch, not the ashes of a human being. Well, not the entire human being. His father had requested his remains be cremated and sent to everyone in the family, all ten of them, including Sean’s mother.
Once he opened it, he realized the box was generously larger than the actual remains. His mother had sent them using regular postage, nothing special. She had no fond affections for her late husband, which everyone knew. Still, Sean thought she might have spent a little more money on honoring his father’s last wishes, especially with the insurance money she had received. If his father had not died from lung cancer as a result of working twenty-five years in the shipyard, Sean would not have put it past his mother to lace his father’s coffee with cyanide.
The remains rested inches in front of him, on the counter, in a small plastic bag sealed with a rubber band. It was less than a handful of grayish sand that could have once been an arthritic elbow or a bum knee or a calloused foot.
In that moment Sean wanted to do something respectful to honor his father’s remains, but his mind was blank. His father had never supported his life choices and had made little effort to get to know Sean’s wife, Liza, during the four years they had been married. When they found out they were expecting, they decided not to tell his father, who by then had been moved to a hospice to live out his final days on morphine. Sean was thankful Liza was away visiting her sister because he didn’t want to have to deal with his father’s remains in front of her.
He closed his eyes as he held the small bag in his hands. It could have been a few spoonfuls of sugar, the lightness of it. His father, the hard man, heavy in every sense of the word, now reduced to grains that could easily blow away into nothingness.
Sean wondered what his siblings were going to do with their ashes, what his mother would do with hers. It was then that he noticed a slip of paper inside the box, a note from his mother: “Do with these as you please. I have already flushed mine. Love, Mom.”
He stared numbly at his father’s ashes, fully grasping the hate the man had inspired in others. Sean didn’t think he would flush the remains—no one deserved that level of disrespect, he figured—but he might find a beautiful spot, somewhere off the bay, where he could release them into the wind, a place beautiful enough to hopefully heal the darkness of an atrophied soul.
Ran Walker is the author of fifteen books. He teaches creative writing at Hampton University in Virginia and can be reached at www.ranwalker.com.
by Paul Rondema
Henry found Grandma’s old, heavy scissors in the back of Papa's desk.
He gathered all the pictures of Grandma.
He carried them to his playhouse where no one else could see.
He held the picture from the summer he and Grandma rose early every morning and walked down to the river.
He felt the cool air on his face and Grandma’s warm hand holding his.
He set the picture down.
He held the picture from last October when he and Grandma and Papa drove all the way to Texas to visit cousins and aunties and uncles.
He heard the twang of the radio and felt the rumble of the road.
He set the picture down.
He held the picture from the morning he and Grandma made enough pancakes, bacon and orange juice to feed a dozen families.
He felt the heat of the griddle and tasted the warm syrup.
He lifted the scissors.
Something moved behind him.
“What’ve you got there?” Papa asked.
“Nothing.” Henry slid Grandma’s scissors under his leg. “I heard you and Mama whispering…about Grandma.”
“I know she’s sick.”
Papa squeezed into the playhouse. “We didn’t know how to tell you.”
Henry handed the picture to Papa.
“What’s this for?”
Henry showed Papa the scissors. “I'm cutting her out of the pictures. So we won't remember. So we won’t be sad.”
Papa picked up another picture. “Can I use those?”
Henry gripped the scissors tight.
Papa picked up a different picture.
Henry touched his arm. “Maybe not that one.”
Papa picked up a third picture.
“But you want to forget.”
“Because they make me sad.” Henry touched the scissors’ blade. “And happy.”
Papa put his arm around Henry. “Do you really want to forget her?”
Henry shook his head. “So, it’s okay to remember?”
Henry snuggled into Papa’s side. “And it’s okay to be sad?”
Papa hugged Henry. “So, what are we gonna do with these?”
Henry wiggled free. “Stay here.”
He ran into the house. He gathered everything they would need.
Late that afternoon he and Papa neared the end of the scrapbook. “Leave the last page blank,” Henry said.
At the hospital, Henry ran ahead. “Don’t forget the camera,” he shouted over his shoulder. “Grandma and I aren’t done making memories.”
In his formative years Paul Rondema lived in China, Nigeria and (talk about culture shock) central Indiana before returning to Portland, Oregon where he lives with his wife and daughter.
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